Thursday, November 02, 2006

Art For Arts Sake

A friend of mine wrote to me recently, he was feeling frustrated with his work, his art. A feeling I know all too well. I presume many artists have been to that dark place.
Whilst preparing for his exhibition the doubts began knocking at his mind's door. He made the mistake of answering.

He began with:
"I have no meaning!!! Did Picasso have meaning? It seems like he was just as determined to create aesthetic art as I am. Screw meaning. But I feel like it's time I let go of that attitude..."

I could feel his frustration. Being an artist is both frustrating and wonderful at times and at the risk of sounding arrogant, sometimes I feel only other artists truly understand my 'art related' frustrations.

In his letter, my friend then wrote:
"It is very frustrating. I have nothing that is commercially viable!!! The people want meaning!!! If they can't figure it out they write it off as 'different', 'fun' or 'whimsical'. These never add up to a 'strong' piece."

I found myself relating to the first part but totally disagreeing with 'These never add up to a strong piece'.

Picasso's work had meaning, and to me his work is far more than
just aesthetically pleasing. In my opinion he was an artistic genius. I am perhaps correct in saying all art has some meaning. I guess the thing is, when we are talking about the viewers or buyers - and what makes a piece commercially viable - is that it means something to someone else. i.e the viewer or buyer.

He went on to ask me how I would describe his work, telling me a friend of his had placed his work in the category of 'post-surrealism'. I guess it's always post 'something'. I often cringe at categories when it comes to art. I often dread the question, "so what kind of art do you do?" Not because I don't like discussing my art, but because people seem to want to automatically place it in a category or compare it to another artist's work. I guess without seeing the work it is hard for them to visualise what I tell them so it is then easier to compare my explanation to something they are familiar with. So you can imagine the confusion on people's faces when I used to tell them that my work was influenced not only by Japanese 'Pop Art' but also the ancient art of Japanese woodblock prints. I wonder if anyone ever pictured Astro Boy flying over Hokusai's famous wave.

As I began my reply to him I must have mounted my high horse.
I told him I thought his work was fun and that I did not think that was at all a bad thing.
A lot of people go on about 'meaning', or political or controversial jargon in art. I used the word 'jargon' because that is sometimes what I feel it is.

I've been exhibiting my art for around 8 years now and I used to often struggle with the 'deeper meaning' of my work. I used to think people wanted a 'story' to go with a piece of art. Often when talking to prospective buyers about a piece I'd realise there actually was a story there.
Every picture tells a story. True? Or not? Either way I realised that I paint first and fore mostly because I love to paint. I need to paint, to create. I paint things I love, enjoy or feel a connection with. Therefore, at the end of the day, there is meaning. We love, like and connect with things for a reason.

Sometimes I paint without even initially realising why I am creating that particular image. Not all paintings are planned, but either way, there is always something behind it. Obvious or not.
I have come to accept that whatever is behind a piece of art does not always have to be something deep and profound.

I managed a high profile Melbourne gallery for just under 18 months. We exhibited some of Australia's highest profile and top selling artists, both living and dead. As much as I learnt there, I also discovered that some of it is just pandering to people's needs. I noticed some people felt that art had to have some significance that they can relate to, (or pretend to), and say, "Oh yes. Yes. I see". Despite my cynicism, I do admit that there are many artists who do make legitimate 'statements' through their art - be it subtle or in your face - and they pull it off with dignity. These artists have my respect. However, I have also been exposed to a lot of propaganda in the art world. Perhaps this is how my cynicism developed. Or maybe it's just that I am getting older. They say we become more cynical with age.

I used to often worry that I just paint 'pretty pictures', then it dawned on me... After working in three Melbourne galleries, dealing with the general public, serious 'collectors', the self confessed 'ignorant' and the artists themselves, I discovered that a lot of people WANT 'pretty pictures'. People do enjoy 'happy' imagery just as much and sometimes more than bold statements or controversy. Of course there are always exceptions, but this discovery was enough to make me feel a whole lot better about what I do.

I still refer back to a quote in one of my favourite novels of all time, Skinny Legs and All, by Tom Robbins:
"The purpose of art is to create what life does not."

There has been so much shit going on in the world in recent times. Many people find it all very heavy and hard to deal with at times. Recently I have found that a lot of people find it refreshing to NOT have to think too much about a piece of art and simply enjoy looking at it. I have seen people relate to my work for many different reasons, and this always makes me happy. Some people even see things in the work that I do not.

I say 'let art be open to interpretation.'

What drew me to my friend's work was the 'fun' element. It was the quirkiness. It was the whimsical and fantastic nature of it. His work allowed me to enter a different world - and I saw that as a great thing - for aren't there times when we just want to step out of this one for a while? To me, all of these were 'strengths'.

Sometimes I think the more we try to find all these 'meanings' for the work we do, the less enjoyable they become to create. I think it can be simple sometimes. If I enjoy what I do, people can often see that in the work - and that alone can allow someone to fall in love with or connect with a piece.

People are drawn to works of art for so many different reasons and many people who buy art buy it first and foremost because they like it. The majority of buyers I dealt with bought art to hang on their wall and wanted something they could enjoy looking at every day, not something that continually made them question themselves or others, or that reminds them of how fucked up the world can be.

I guess though, the great thing about art is that there is pretty much a place for everything and anything. This can be both frustrating and wonderful.

My closing words to my friend were:
'There is always a story. Just create the work.
The story is already there.'

1 comment:

natalie said...

I agree that "meaning" can cause much grief. In general, I don't tell people what I was thinking when I created a piece. I let them tell me what they see. It is much more interesting.

Art should make people feel: something, anything...
And you know what? That IS ENOUGH.

We do what we do, as you said, because we must, and that is why it matters even if it has no meaning in a commercial way- especially if it has no meaning in a commercial way...

OH NO... I am getting myself all wound up..
We all have days when we see Red Cross workers, political activists or Jamie Tarrabay and wonder why we are playing around with art but in the end, the choice is not ours... we do what we are inexplicably compelled to do and that is important, that is enough.
I don't think you are being a snob at all in saying that non-artists cannot really unsderstand art-related ennui or issues, I think it is the same for doctors and soldiers, I would never attempt to tell a person who had been through combat that I knew just what they were tlking about... different lives bring different experiences...

Love to you, wonderful Simone...